Friday, August 25, 2017

How Do I get My Horse Thinking More

Louisa wrote to ask: " I really like the concept of reaching a horse emotionally as opposed to changing the way they instinctively act. I watch Clinton Anderson talking about the two sides of a horse's brain, but sometimes he moves too fast for me to understand when demonstrating what he is doing to get the horse's thinking side of his brain engaged. Do you have some exercises or drills where I can help my horses with this?"

You were likely watching Clinton Anderson working a horse from the ground, perhaps with a flag and once the horse showed signs of acceptance such as licking and chewing and preparing to stop or actually stop moving his feet, you would hear something to the effect that "now he is thinking". The television programs are restricted for time, so sometimes I reckon you have to put two and two together to gather an understanding on what the clinician is doing. But one way I would sum up getting your horse to think rather than react is to challenge the horse with as little pressure as you need to get the reaction you are looking for, and when the horse  accepts that pressure, quit the pressure.  In the beginning release the pressure upon the horse beginning to try to go what you are asking, then build on that by asking for more.    
The example I always use first to explain this is standing to the side of a horse's head and placing one hand on his nose and the other hand on his poll (behind his ears). Applying as little pressure as possible push his nose down and in slightly, and push his poll down - I always use a voice command of 'head down' as well - but the first time you do this the horse will likely not drop his head. If he drops his head ever so little and slowly, then I would release the pressure, wait a few seconds then do it again. Within a very short time period you will see rapid understanding where you get him to drop his head as he begins to feel the pressure of your hand on his nose and poll. This has to be a product of the horse thinking and realizing that dropping his head to gain a release of the pressure no matter how benign. And in this case you can call this type of pressure - physical or direct pressure if it helps your understanding of it.

Another example may be going to feed a horse. Many people will move to feed a horse not noticing that the horse is crowding, or pinning his ears, or poking his nose out trying to get to the feed.....some may notice and think it's funny. If you drop the feed and walk away, the horse likely thinks he is bullying you away from the feed. Instead, if he crowds you, or pins his ears and pokes his nose out at you when you are approaching the feed bin to drop his hay, stop and wait on him to change..... it will come.
It will take awhile and you may have to back him up if he crowds you, but eventually this non-direct or mental pressure will have him seeking the release, which for me is for him to take a step or two backwards. He will likely start to move forward again as you begin to move to drop the feed, so stop again and repeat. I had one horse who when crowding me so I took a step backwards. There was a stall gate between us which helped.  He learned in about 15 minutes that every time he approached me, I stepped back with the feed. If I would have given up and just threw his feed, he would have learned that he can bully people for his feed. I kept at it and he eventually would approach then stop on his own and back a few steps. This is as good as it got with his horse.  However, I much prefer to stand my ground and have the horse back away.
It's fascinating looking at a horse's face when they are searching for the answer. They'll usually look left and right, then back at you, and when they do for the signal in his eyes, the blink, and the ear set when he tries backing away as the solution. Heck, I may be imagining it....I just don't know. But I do know that if you give him the time to search for the right answer the horse will usually do so and that, again, has got to be helping the horse develop thinking.

Yet another example would be when you are in the saddle and you ask your horse for lateral flexion. When we normally do this we try to give the horse a release the exact moment he gives or gets soft meaning there is slack in the rein. Try this a few times, then ask for lateral flexion again but hold. The horse will try to pull away, but continue holding. Eventually seeking another solution he'll disengage his hind end - be ready for that and as soon as he changes his weight and begins to step over, give him the release.

When I work with a horse to get him to side over to me when I am on a platform such as a fence, so I can mount, this becomes another exercise in setting it up for the horse to think. I'll sit on the top rail and most horses will face you up. I'll bump his lead in a rhythmic motion until he moves his feet and when he moves his feet....just takes a step to one side or the other....I'll release and give him 10 seconds or so to think on it. Then I'll begin again. Eventually he'll side up to you where you can mount. And when I say eventually, this whole process usually takes just a few minutes, but don't rush him, give him the time he needs to think on it. Don't worry about him moving to the wrong side.  If he naturally sides up to you on the opposite side you want to mount, this is a great opportunity to get him thinking again by bumping until he takes a step in the direction you need him too.

As far as having a list of exercises, I don't have a list, it's really as simple as just giving the horse time to search for what you are asking him to do. I think we can agree that we would like the horse to stand until we asked him to move. If I dismount and walk out in front of the horse a few steps, I need him to stand. I start this with ground training. I lead a horse on the ground, halt, keep slack in the lead line and walk forward a few feet. If the horse steps forward without me asking, I use pressure on the lead to back him up, then step forward again. I may have to repeat this several times to get to the point where I am out in front of him with him standing. I'll then lightly take up the slack in the lead and he'll feel the change of pressure on that lead. It may come to a pretty taunt lead line before he steps forward and gains a release. I usually use a verbal command such as a whistle to come to me. Sometimes,.....wait, who am I kidding,...most of the time the horse will get distracted looking left or right. If so, I just bump the lead to get his head back facing me.
That's pretty much it, but everything you ask the horse to do, if you give him the time, he'll begin to think.  That's my belief and I'm sticking to it! 

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